Why is there an opening procession?
Once we have readied ourselves for the sacred mysteries through interior prayer and commitment, the first thing we witness is an entrance procession accompanied by music. Processions accompany all forms of religious worship and can be seen in many examples of the church’s liturgical life: Mass (entrance, presentation of gifts and recessional), eucharistic processions, Palm Sunday processions with palms, funeral processions, etc. In Scripture, we find examples of processions with the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6, 1 Kings 8) and in Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11, Matthew 21, Luke 19, and John 12). In all of these examples, the procession is a sign of triumph and royalty as well as a reminder of our own Christian pilgrimage from this life to our eternal reward. As such, it is fitting that the procession marks the beginning of the celebration of Mass. We witness the triumphal entry of the standard of our salvation – the cross – and are reminded that this life is fleeting and is a preparation of the life to come.
Why do we stand for the opening procession?
Our posture during this procession is standing, which is drawn from sacred Scripture when the people of Israel “would rise up and worship” each time Moses entered the Tent of Meeting where the Tabernacle was located (Ex 33: 7-11). Therefore, it is a unifying sign of reverence.
Why do we start with an opening hymn?
The entrance hymn that accompanies this liturgical procession has as its purpose the idea of movement toward the great sacrifice that is about to take place. Here, we see the entrance hymn unifying the faithful who gather together in a sense of pilgrimage.
Why does the priest genuflect (or bow) before entering the sanctuary?
If the tabernacle with the Eucharist is located in the sanctuary, the priest genuflects as a sign of reverence before the Eucharist. If the tabernacle is located in a side chapel, the priest bows as a sign of reverence before the altar, which is a symbol of Christ.
Why does the priest kiss the altar after entering the sanctuary? Why are there relics in the altar?
Immediately following the procession, the priest and deacon (after placing the Book of the Gospels down) kiss the altar. Originally, they would kiss the altar above the relics of the martyrs that were contained within the altar; however, even when relics are not present, the priest and deacon kiss the altar as a sign of reverence for the sacrifice about to take place upon it. The tradition of using relics in the altar stems from the early Christian community who would gather in secret to celebrate the Eucharist in the Roman catacombs upon the tombs of martyrs who had died in the persecutions.
What is meant by “fully conscious and active participation?”
In preparing for a discussion of Mass, it is important to understand the nature of our participation in the celebration. In “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” the Second Vatican Council calls for the faithful to be led to a “fully conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations” (No. 14). This simple phrase has been the subject of much effort and discussion in the past 40 years. There is an element of this that is fulfilled in the participation of the faithful in the responses at Mass, both in recitation and in song. There is also an important element of active participation that allows the faithful to fulfill many of the ministries that serve the liturgy. The emphasis placed upon this active participation in the time since the Second Vatican Council has borne much fruit in our lives. However, former Archbishop Alfred Hughes explains that this external participation remains secondary to the primary internal participation that we all are called to in the Mass. “What is incredibly important is that we are interiorly united with him in the sacrificial offering that he once made historically and is represented in the sacramental celebration of the liturgy,” Archbishop Hughes said.
What did Blessed Pope John Paul II say about “full participation” in the Mass?
In 1998, when the bishops of the United States visited Rome, Blessed Pope John Paul II said: “Full participation certainly means that every member of the community has a part to play in the liturgy […] But full participation does not mean that everyone does everything, since this would lead to a clericalizing of the laity and a laicizing of the priesthood; and this was not what the Council had in mind […] Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it.” What is clearly seen here is that lay liturgical ministries have an important role to play in the liturgy when they are fulfilled properly and in accord with the norms of the church. However, this desire for active participation does not stop with the specialized ministries of a particular parish, nor is it the principal example of active participation. Every single person is called to active participation, which takes place with our interior disposition as we foster an interior union with Jesus Christ and a union with the priest who offers our prayers to God at the altar. In fact, it is precisely in this interior disposition that we actualize our full membership in the common priesthood, which is the end goal of active participation. At the presentation of gifts, when the bread and wine are prepared to be offered to God our Father, we, too, should offer ourselves in union with the bread and wine prepared by the priest. In this interior disposition and active participation, fostered by prayer and reverence for the sacred mysteries, the greatest of fruits will abound.
Ian Bozant is a second year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why is there an opening procession?